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Twenty Minutes Past Ten To Forty-seven Minutes Past Ten P M

From: From The Earth To The Moon

As ten o'clock struck, Michel Ardan, Barbicane, and Nicholl,
took leave of the numerous friends they were leaving on the earth.
The two dogs, destined to propagate the canine race on the lunar
continents, were already shut up in the projectile.

The three travelers approached the orifice of the enormous
cast-iron tube, and a crane let them down to the conical top of
the projectile. There, an opening made for the purpose gave
them access to the aluminum car. The tackle belonging to the
crane being hauled from outside, the mouth of the Columbiad was
instantly disencumbered of its last supports.

Nicholl, once introduced with his companions inside the
projectile, began to close the opening by means of a strong
plate, held in position by powerful screws. Other plates,
closely fitted, covered the lenticular glasses, and the
travelers, hermetically enclosed in their metal prison, were
plunged in profound darkness.

"And now, my dear companions," said Michel Ardan, "let us
make ourselves at home; I am a domesticated man and strong
in housekeeping. We are bound to make the best of our new
lodgings, and make ourselves comfortable. And first let us
try and see a little. Gas was not invented for moles."

So saying, the thoughtless fellow lit a match by striking it on
the sole of his boot; and approached the burner fixed to the
receptacle, in which the carbonized hydrogen, stored at high
pressure, sufficed for the lighting and warming of the
projectile for a hundred and forty-four hours, or six days and
six nights. The gas caught fire, and thus lighted the
projectile looked like a comfortable room with thickly padded
walls, furnished with a circular divan, and a roof rounded in
the shape of a dome.

Michel Ardan examined everything, and declared himself satisfied
with his installation.

"It is a prison," said he, "but a traveling prison; and, with
the right of putting my nose to the window, I could well stand
a lease of a hundred years. You smile, Barbicane. Have you any
arriere-pensee? Do you say to yourself, `This prison may be
our tomb?' Tomb, perhaps; still I would not change it for
Mahomet's, which floats in space but never advances an inch!"

While Michel Ardan was speaking, Barbicane and Nicholl were
making their last preparations.

Nicholl's chronometer marked twenty minutes past ten P.M. when
the three travelers were finally enclosed in their projectile.
This chronometer was set within the tenth of a second by that of
Murchison the engineer. Barbicane consulted it.

"My friends," said he, "it is twenty minutes past ten. At forty-
seven minutes past ten Murchison will launch the electric spark
on the wire which communicates with the charge of the Columbiad.
At that precise moment we shall leave our spheroid. Thus we
still have twenty-seven minutes to remain on the earth."

"Twenty-six minutes thirteen seconds," replied the methodical Nicholl.

"Well!" exclaimed Michel Ardan, in a good-humored tone, "much
may be done in twenty-six minutes. The gravest questions of
morals and politics may be discussed, and even solved.
Twenty-six minutes well employed are worth more than twenty-six
years in which nothing is done. Some seconds of a Pascal or a
Newton are more precious than the whole existence of a crowd of
raw simpletons----"

"And you conclude, then, you everlasting talker?" asked Barbicane.

"I conclude that we have twenty-six minutes left," replied Ardan.

"Twenty-four only," said Nicholl.

"Well, twenty-four, if you like, my noble captain," said Ardan;
"twenty-four minutes in which to investigate----"

"Michel," said Barbicane, "during the passage we shall have
plenty of time to investigate the most difficult questions.
For the present we must occupy ourselves with our departure."

"Are we not ready?"

"Doubtless; but there are still some precautions to be taken,
to deaden as much as possible the first shock."

"Have we not the water-cushions placed between the partition-
breaks, whose elasticity will sufficiently protect us?"

"I hope so, Michel," replied Barbicane gently, "but I am not sure."

"Ah, the joker!" exclaimed Michel Ardan. "He hopes!--He is not
sure!-- and he waits for the moment when we are encased to make
this deplorable admission! I beg to be allowed to get out!"

"And how?" asked Barbicane.

"Humph!" said Michel Ardan, "it is not easy; we are in the
train, and the guard's whistle will sound before twenty-four
minutes are over."

"Twenty," said Nicholl.

For some moments the three travelers looked at each other.
Then they began to examine the objects imprisoned with them.

"Everything is in its place," said Barbicane. "We have now to
decide how we can best place ourselves to resist the shock.
Position cannot be an indifferent matter; and we must, as much
as possible, prevent the rush of blood to the head."

"Just so," said Nicholl.

"Then," replied Michel Ardan, ready to suit the action to the
word, "let us put our heads down and our feet in the air, like
the clowns in the grand circus."

"No," said Barbicane, "let us stretch ourselves on our sides; we
shall resist the shock better that way. Remember that, when the
projectile starts, it matters little whether we are in it or
before it; it amounts to much the same thing."

"If it is only `much the same thing,' I may cheer up," said
Michel Ardan.

"Do you approve of my idea, Nicholl?" asked Barbicane.

"Entirely," replied the captain. "We've still thirteen minutes
and a half."

"That Nicholl is not a man," exclaimed Michel; "he is a
chronometer with seconds, an escape, and eight holes."

But his companions were not listening; they were taking up their
last positions with the most perfect coolness. They were like
two methodical travelers in a car, seeking to place themselves
as comfortably as possible.

We might well ask ourselves of what materials are the hearts of
these Americans made, to whom the approach of the most frightful
danger added no pulsation.

Three thick and solidly-made couches had been placed in
the projectile. Nicholl and Barbicane placed them in the
center of the disc forming the floor. There the three
travelers were to stretch themselves some moments before
their departure.

During this time, Ardan, not being able to keep still, turned in
his narrow prison like a wild beast in a cage, chatting with his
friends, speaking to the dogs Diana and Satellite, to whom, as
may be seen, he had given significant names.

"Ah, Diana! Ah, Satellite!" he exclaimed, teasing them; "so you
are going to show the moon-dogs the good habits of the dogs of
the earth! That will do honor to the canine race! If ever we
do come down again, I will bring a cross type of `moon-dogs,'
which will make a stir!"

"If there are dogs in the moon," said Barbicane.

"There are," said Michel Ardan, "just as there are horses, cows,
donkeys, and chickens. I bet that we shall find chickens."

"A hundred dollars we shall find none!" said Nicholl.

"Done, my captain!" replied Ardan, clasping Nicholl's hand.
"But, by the bye, you have already lost three bets with our
president, as the necessary funds for the enterprise have been
found, as the operation of casting has been successful, and
lastly, as the Columbiad has been loaded without accident, six
thousand dollars."

"Yes," replied Nicholl. "Thirty-seven minutes six seconds past ten."

"It is understood, captain. Well, before another quarter of an
hour you will have to count nine thousand dollars to the
president; four thousand because the Columbiad will not burst,
and five thousand because the projectile will rise more than six
miles in the air."

"I have the dollars," replied Nicholl, slapping the pocket of
this coat. "I only ask to be allowed to pay."

"Come, Nicholl. I see that you are a man of method, which
I could never be; but indeed you have made a series of bets
of very little advantage to yourself, allow me to tell you."

"And why?" asked Nicholl.

"Because, if you gain the first, the Columbiad will have burst,
and the projectile with it; and Barbicane will no longer be
there to reimburse your dollars."

"My stake is deposited at the bank in Baltimore," replied
Barbicane simply; "and if Nicholl is not there, it will go to
his heirs."

"Ah, you practical men!" exclaimed Michel Ardan; "I admire you
the more for not being able to understand you."

"Forty-two minutes past ten!" said Nicholl.

"Only five minutes more!" answered Barbicane.

"Yes, five little minutes!" replied Michel Ardan; "and we are
enclosed in a projectile, at the bottom of a gun 900 feet long!
And under this projectile are rammed 400,000 pounds of gun-cotton,
which is equal to 1,600,000 pounds of ordinary powder! And friend
Murchison, with his chronometer in hand, his eye fixed on the
needle, his finger on the electric apparatus, is counting the
seconds preparatory to launching us into interplanetary space."

"Enough, Michel, enough!" said Barbicane, in a serious voice;
"let us prepare. A few instants alone separate us from an
eventful moment. One clasp of the hand, my friends."

"Yes," exclaimed Michel Ardan, more moved than he wished to
appear; and the three bold companions were united in a last embrace.

"God preserve us!" said the religious Barbicane.

Michel Ardan and Nicholl stretched themselves on the couches
placed in the center of the disc.

"Forty-seven minutes past ten!" murmured the captain.

"Twenty seconds more!" Barbicane quickly put out the gas and
lay down by his companions, and the profound silence was only
broken by the ticking of the chronometer marking the seconds.

Suddenly a dreadful shock was felt, and the projectile, under
the force of six billions of litres of gas, developed by the
combustion of pyroxyle, mounted into space.

Next: The First Half-hour

Previous: A New Star

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